Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Green heron

with 54 comments

Click for a larger image.

On August 5th I trekked to an out-of-the-way pond in my neighborhood that I hadn’t visited in at least a year. Given the drought we’ve been in, I found the pond had partly dried up, but not enough to deter a couple of green herons, Butorides virescens, from hanging out there. Putting on my 100–400mm lens, I gradually made my way closer, finally stopping when it looked like one more step would take me into the mud of the pond’s exposed bed. In the picture above, the dead tree and its reflection were intriguing even without the bird; click to enlarge and see more detail. Below you get a closer look at one of the herons.

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead.”
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1735).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

54 Responses

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  1. That’s a great perch. Like a pond dragon. I love the coloring of the Green Herons. I think it was a great idea to revisit this pond.


    August 20, 2020 at 5:41 AM

    • A great perch it was, and I also see something dragonish in the tree. My timing was good in revisiting this pond; more pictures from that trek will turn up in at least one more post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 6:27 AM

  2. ‘Serpent.’ That was the single word that popped into my head. Green heron is a yard bird for us, but I never tire of their hunting antics across the creek out back. They do love their mud bugs!


    August 20, 2020 at 8:13 AM

    • So now we’ve got a dragon and a serpent, and a later commenter added another dragon. Imagine having green herons as yard birds; that’s an advantage of where you live. I’ll add for the benefit of readers who see your comment that a mud bug is the same as a crawfish and a crayfish and a crawdad.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 11:05 AM

  3. What a gorgeous bird!


    August 20, 2020 at 8:35 AM

  4. Some driftwood viewed from a distance look exactly like a blue heron. These birds can stand still for a long time, thus a dead piece of wood has often fooled when taking pictures here at the Arrow Lakes.

    Peter Klopp

    August 20, 2020 at 8:49 AM

    • Now that’s an interesting take on these birds: standing still so long that they appear to be dead wood, and vice versa.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 11:08 AM

  5. Marvelous! My mind went immediately to “dragon” as well, with a fierce heron as its head.


    August 20, 2020 at 8:54 AM

  6. Both of these are wonderful images, and what an interesting perch. Usually, green herons (and most herons) are IN the water stalking their prey. We occasionally see green herons on the slough and old river channel. I can’t believe you managed to move closer without spooking one. They have keen eyesight, and are a marvel to watch snagging their prey!


    August 20, 2020 at 8:54 AM

    • The second picture accords with what you say about green herons being in the water and stalking prey. I wonder if the high perch shown in the first picture made it easier for the bird to see prey without having to expend energy flying. During the time I was there I didn’t see either bird snag anything.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 11:12 AM

      • I bet they spend a lot of time standing motionless, waiting for prey. I cannot say I have ever seen one perched above the water as in your first image. I have seen them in tree tops, calling (as if to find a mate or siblings), but they never linger long.


        August 20, 2020 at 12:09 PM

        • Speaking of standing motionless, check out Peter Klopp’s comment above, if you haven’t already read it. As for perching above the water like the heron in the first picture, I wonder if the drought-exposed tree provided an opportunity that one of these birds wouldn’t normally get.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 20, 2020 at 12:17 PM

  7. NICE!

    The Belmont Rooster

    August 20, 2020 at 10:47 AM

  8. What a wonderful capture!


    August 20, 2020 at 11:14 AM

  9. Fantastic capture, with the mirroring in the water.


    August 20, 2020 at 11:27 AM

    • I agree that the mirroring made this special. I took a few pictures of that in its own right when the heron wasn’t perched on the tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 11:30 AM

  10. The green heron’s quite common down here on the coast. I rarely see them stalking in the water; I usually spot them hidden in grasses at the water’s edge, or perching on docklines or bulkhead stringers. Because of their small size, they can tuck themselves into a bulkhead and be nearly invisible. There are several hanging around the marina where I’m working just now, and they’re fun to watch.

    I’d read about them using ‘tools’ to fish, but wasn’t sure I believed it until I watched one drop pieces of bread into the marina waters, and wait. When the fish came to investigate, it was dinner time for the heron.

    When I saw the first photo, I initially missed the heron. Instead, the limbs and their reflections looked like an angel fish (on the left) confronting a trigger fish. I guess this isn’t the week for some Caribbean snorkeling, though.


    August 20, 2020 at 12:35 PM

    • This landlubber had to look up “bulkhead stringers.” It sounds like these herons have adapted pretty well to those human elements. Are you aware of anyone else documenting the behavior you saw, namely a heron dropping pieces of bread into the water as bait? If not, you should report it. Where you’d report it isn’t clear; maybe the Cornell birding site.

      To other people’s visions of the tree limbs as a dragon and a snake we can now add two fish.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 1:53 PM

      • I’ve never heard of their using bait to attract their prey–absolutely fascinating, and I agree that you should report this, Linda. This is great enlarged, and I too love the serpentine perch.


        August 20, 2020 at 5:38 PM

        • Now you’ve made me wonder whether any of the fish called perch are serpentine.

          I normally post photographs here that are about 0.5 megabytes in size. This time I included a version of the first picture that’s 1.8 megabytes because I wanted people to better appreciate the details. Of course a size of 1.8 megabytes is still small compared to the original, where you can really appreciate the details.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 20, 2020 at 5:47 PM

          • I noted and appreciated the greater detail in the higher-res image. It really pays off in shots like this, in which the main subject is smaller than usual in the composition.


            August 21, 2020 at 1:44 AM

            • Yes indeed, and that’s why I went large this time. You’ve also noticed that I’ve occasionally taken a different tack and offered an enlargement of a small part of the main picture or another picture I took at the same time.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 21, 2020 at 7:02 AM

              • Both tacks are effective, and it’s not a far reach to say that the one complements the other very well.


                August 21, 2020 at 4:23 PM

        • Apparently the green heron’s skill at using fishing lures is well known. The Cornell site has this to say about the practice: “The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.”

          Such clever birds!


          August 21, 2020 at 6:02 AM

          • Definitely clever. I wonder if birds of other species, after seeing what green herons do, will eventually learn to do it too.

            Steve Schwartzman

            August 21, 2020 at 7:04 AM

  11. Those are both beautiful photos of the heron. I enjoyed a couple of visits to my pond about 5 years ago from a Green Heron. It skulked in my little bog area, keen eyes on the pond, ready for a fish catch. I used to have annual, early spring visits from Great Blues, but the past two years, no big bird has come for sushi. I do see them fly overhead frequently. https://mygardenersays.com/2017/04/24/goldfish-breakfast-of-champions/


    August 20, 2020 at 1:06 PM

    • The fact that the water in the pond was so low worked in my favor in two ways: it let me walk out much farther than I normally would have been able to, and it revealed those photogenic dead tree limbs and their reflections. Another photogenic thing not shown here was the draping of sheets of dry white algae over dead stumps to create little tent-like structures.

      You chose a good title for your 2017 post: “Goldfish: Breakfast of Champions.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 2:08 PM

  12. Just identified my first Green Heron, which is shocking in that it hasn’t happened before, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. Having grown up in STL and spending quite a bit of time in the Ozarks, it’s surprising, really, as I gather they are not that uncommon. All the time I’ve spent in the outdoors and the first one I identify is seen in what amounts to a glorified sewage ditch at the boundaries of the city proper, one block from my house.
    A beautiful bird.
    Life is funny.

    Johnny Crabcakes

    August 20, 2020 at 9:59 PM

    • There’s so much in the world, and one person can know only a little of it all. As a result, I suspect we all have stories of improbable connections, late discoveries of nearby things, eye-openers, influential encounters, and who knows what else. Every now and then I notice something about the English language that had never occurred to me, even though it’s my native language and I’ve been speaking it for more than 70 years. In any case, happy green herons to us both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 20, 2020 at 10:07 PM

      • Indeed–discoveries abound, one of the great rewards of life. It took me way too long to learn what a great joy it is to learn.

        Johnny Crabcakes

        August 20, 2020 at 10:09 PM

        • Now in respect to that I’ll have to say I got an early start, probably intrinsically, but helped along a lot by my father’s love of learning. I grew up in a house with thousands of books.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 20, 2020 at 10:12 PM

  13. Nice first image. Did you get one with the heron’s reflection as well?

    Steve Gingold

    August 21, 2020 at 3:04 AM

    • Good question. Yes, I did, although due to the conditions the reflection wasn’t as clear as I could’ve wished. In a few frames I composed vertically to emphasize it a little more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 5:01 AM

  14. These are such beautiful birds!


    August 21, 2020 at 8:19 PM

  15. Good for the Green herons, who by enticing you to take their photos, created so many intriguing comments and conversations. 😉


    August 22, 2020 at 11:40 AM

    • Good for the green herons, and good for the intriguing comments and conversations; may they keep flowing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2020 at 5:05 PM

  16. Very nice, Steve! Love the branch composition and enjoyed the serpent comments above.

    Green Herons that we see tend to be quite secretive and shy. It could be with the low water you are experiencing they have to go outside their comfort zone to hunt. They are gorgeous birds and glad you got to see them in person!

    Ellen Jennings

    August 22, 2020 at 5:34 PM

    • It was a new experience for me—but then I know little about birds, so I’m more likely than not to have new experiences with them. What you say about green herons normally being secretive seems to fit here, because the pond isn’t an obvious place for people to get to, with the exception of a neighbor or two, and so the herons may be accustomed to being around that seldom-visited pond.

      And yes, those serpentine branches provided a great perch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2020 at 7:05 PM

  17. How lucky to have such a cooperative heron in front of your camera, Steve. By the time they reach Colorado, they are usually more skittish.
    The first photo evokes images of the heron hopping from arch to arch to vertical branch before leaping off into the sky.


    August 22, 2020 at 6:24 PM

    • If the heron had hopped from arch to arch to branch and then off into the sky, that really would have been something to see. I did get pictures of it on the branch in different positions, sometimes facing left, as shown; sometime facing right; sometimes mostly facing forward; and occasionally even twisting its neck around to preen its feathers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2020 at 7:10 PM

  18. […] home from the outing in my neighborhood that produced the two pictures above (along with those of the two green herons you recently saw), I had my latest encounter, this time with an armadillo providing the food for a […]

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